PURDUE: Three Days and Counting

Expect some people like James Hardy, Dorien Bryant, Greg Middleton and Terrell Vinson to have a huge impact on the outcome of this weekend's Old Oaken Bucket battle. HoosierNation.com analyzes three of the biggest match-ups in the contest...

IU WR James Hardy vs. PU CB Terrell Vinson and/or PU CB David Pender - If Indiana is going to go to a bowl game, it's going to need a big effort from its top playmaker James Hardy. Hardy enters the game with 64 receptions for 988 yards and 15 touchdowns, and with the Hoosiers' season now on the line, it's a near certainty that IU will try to get the ball in his hands as often as possible. It will fall to Vinson and Pender to keep Hardy from having a dominant performance. Vinson is the Boilers' top corner, but he'd be giving up nine inches and 45 pounds to the 6'6", 225-pound Hardy. With that in mind, the 6'1", 180-pound Pender might get a shot at keeping Hardy under wraps as well.

So will Hardy have the same sort of dominant performance that he did against Penn State, when he caught 14 passes for 142 yards and two touchdowns? While those are lofty numbers, it's within the realm of possibility considering Purdue has allowed a wideout to catch 10 balls in each of the past two weeks. A week ago Michigan State wideout Devin Thomas caught 10 passes for 116 yards in MSU's 48-31 victory, and two weeks ago Penn State's Derrick Williams caught 10 passes for 95 yards and a score.

PU WR Dorien Bryant vs. IU CB Tracy Porter – There might not be a better head-to-head match-up on the field than this encounter. In Bryant, Purdue has the Big Ten's leader in receptions (73). Indiana, meanwhile, counters with Porter, who is the Big Ten leader in interceptions (6). It's also a match-up of a pair seniors who will be playing in their fourth Bucket game, and have grown very familiar with each other over the years.

While Bryant is among the Big Ten's best wideouts, he hasn't been as involved in the last two weeks. In losses to Penn State and Michigan State Bryant caught a combined nine passes for just 83 yards and hasn't caught a touchdown pass. By way of contrast, Porter has three interceptions in his last three games, including two in last week's loss at Northwestern.

In addition to their head-to-head match-up when Purdue has the football, these two could also have a big impact on the game's outcome with their work on special teams. Porter ranks third in the Big Ten in punt returns (12.2 yards/return) while Bryant ranks second in kickoff returns (28.6/return) and has run back two for scores, including the game's opening kickoff two weeks ago against Penn State.

IU DE Greg Middleton vs. PU LT Sean Sester – This weekend's match-up means plenty to everyone involved with both programs, but it might mean just a little bit more to Hoosier sophomore Greg Middleton. Middleton originally verballed to Purdue before eventually backing off that pledge and committing to Indiana.

While football recruits de-committing isn't that uncommon, what unfolded in Middleton's case was unusual. Soon after Middleton committed to IU Tiller made some less-than-flattering comments about the then 18-year-old's character on his weekly radio show, a move that was roundly criticized as being out of bounds. But it still stung Middleton, and there's nothing he'd like more than to make his own statement to the Purdue head coach with his play on the field.

To do that, he'll have to contend with mammoth Boilermaker left tackle Sean Sester, a fifth-year senior who stands 6'7" and weighs 325 pounds. Sester was the starting right tackle in each of the past two seasons before moving to left tackle this season. He's one of the anchors of a Purdue offensive line that ranks fourth in the conference with only 19 sacks allowed, despite the fact Tiller's offense has attempted a Big Ten-high 495 passes.

What's coming up:
On Monday – Five Numbers to Note
On Tuesday - Four Players to Know
On Wednesday – Three Big Concerns
On Thursday – Two Key Match-Ups
On Friday – One Bold Prediction

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